The Legend of Bertha Broadfoot 1: The German Family

The legend of Bertha Broadfoot, daughter of Floris and Blanchefleur, wife of Pepin the Short, and mother of Charlemagne, is to be found in the following versions.

T: Chronique Saintongeaise. French prose, 1200-1250.

M1: Mousket’s Chronique Rimée. French couplets, pre-1240.

C: La Gran Conquista de Ultramar, Book II, Ch. 43. Spanish prose, c. 1300.

S: Der Stricker’s Karl der Grosse. German couplets, 1230-1250.

H: Heinrich of Munich’s Chronik. German prose, c. 1320. Unprinted.

u: A hypothetical, now-lost version.

W2: Heinrich Wolter’s Chronik. Latin prose, 1460-1475. Ed. Henry Meibom, Jr., Rerum Germanicarum, 1688. Volume 2, p. 18 sq.

W1: The Weihenstephaner Chronik. German prose, 1435. Ed. Johann Christopher Aretin Aelteste Sage über die Geburt und Jugend Karls des Grossen: Zum erstenmale bekannt gemacht und erläutert. Munich: J. Schererschen Kunst, 1803. pp. 15-53.

F: Ulrich Fuetrer’s Bayerische Chronik. German prose, 1477-1481. Ed. R. Spiller, in “Quellen und Erörterungen zur bayerischen Geschichte” New series, volume 2, part 2.

D: Gregory Hohenmut’s MS. Zurich, German prose, c. 1475 (with influence from R). Ed. A. Bachmann and S. Singer. Deutsche volksbücher aus einer Zürcher handschrift des fünfzehnten jahrhunderts. Bibliotek des Litterarischer verein in Stuttgart CLXXXV. Tübingen, 1889.

V: Venice 13. Franco-Italian assonanced decasyllables, 1300-1350

M2: Rafael Marmora’s Aquilon de Bavière, Book IV. Italian prose, 1407.

R: Andrea da Barberino’s I Reali di Francia (with influence from A). Italian prose, c. 1400.

N2: Antonio de Eslava, Noches de Invierno. Spanish prose, 1610.

A: Adenet le Rois. French rhyming alexandrines, 1272-1274.

B: Berlin prose, Histoire de la Reine Berte et du Roy Pepin. French prose, c. 1400. Ed. P. Tylus, Histoire de la Reine Berthe et du roy Pepin: Mise en Prose d’une chanson de geste. 2001.

M3: Miracle de Berte. French play, c. 1373. Ed. in Miracles de Notre Dame par personnages, volume 5, 1880.

N1: Berte metten breeden voeten. Dutch couplets, only one fragment, c. 1400. Edition and translation by B. Besamusca, in Oliphant 23.1 (2004): 14-25.

P: Chroniques de France (BnF fr. 5003) Book 6. French prose, c. 1400. Not printed, summary in G. Paris’ Histoire Poetique, Appendix V.

O: Valentine and Orson. c. 1475-1489, of which more in its place.

G: Girard d’Amiens, Charlemagne. French rhyming alexandrines, c. 1285-1314.

Section 1:

Der Stricker’s Karl der Grosse

Der Stricker (“The Knitter”) was the pen name of an otherwise unknown German poet in the 1200s. His most important works include the Arthurian Daniel von dem blühenden Tal (Daniel of the Flowery Valley) and Karl der Grosse, a history of Charlemagne.

King Pepin’s wife, Berhte, was lost, “but the story is too long to tell.” At last she was found again, and bore him two children: Gertrude and Charlemagne.

For Saint Gertrude as the sister of Charlemagne, see King Rother.


Karl der Grosse, von dem Stricker. Ed. by Karl Bartsch. Quedlinburg, 1857.

Section 2:

Henry of Munich’s Chronik

This work (early 1300s) has not been edited, but scholars assure us that its account of Bertha Broadfoot is copied nearly word-for-word from Der Stricker.

Section 3:

Henry Wolter’s Archiepiscopus Bremensis Chronicon

Henry Wolter was born in Oldenburg, studied in Rostock, and became a canon in Bremen. His Chronicle of the Archbishops of Bremen ends with the death of Archbishop Gerdhardt, in 1463. The work is mostly based on Herbord Schene’s Chronica Bremensis and Gerhard Rinesberg’s Historia Archiepiscopurum Bremensium,1 but the part which concerns us, the story of Bertha Broadfoot, is found in neither. Henry’s chronicle begins with Saint Charlemagne’s establishment of churches in Bremen in 788, and the installment of Willehad as bishop, and hence our Henry decides to tell of the birth and life of the holy Emperor.

1: Gramsch, Robert and Hodapp, Julia, “Wolters, Heinrich”, in: Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle, Edited by: Graeme Dunphy, Cristian Bratu. Consulted online on 13 October 2018 <;

King Pepin seeks a wife, and sends messengers to the daughter of King Theoderic of Swabia, Bavaria, and Austria. The messengers return with a “yes,” so he sends three noblemen to escort her to his court. They decide, however, to kill the princess and present the daughter of one of them to Pepin. They cunningly dissuade Theoderic from sending any of his household along with his daughter. When they pass a forest where Karlstadt now stands, they lead her far from the road to kill her. The third has cold feet and persuades the other two to let the princess live. They ride away and leave her. She, scarcely twelve years old, is found by a miller who raises her alongside his own daughter. Meanwhile, the false bride has sons and daughters by Pepin.

One day Pepin rides out in the forest, gets lost, and spends the night at the miller’s house. He asks to spend the night with one of the girls, and the princess volunteers. That night they beget a king. In the morning the king tells the miller to come to court with a distaff if the child is a girl, and a bow and arrow if a boy. The miller duly comes to court with a bow, but the false queen calls for the “Karl” [churl] to be removed. So Pepin calls the boy Karl. He gives the miller money to raise the boy well, and brings him to court once he is old enough. The queen is jealous, so Pepin sends Karl to Theoderic to foster. The boy grows up courteous and strong, and visits his mother often. Theoderic wishes to dub him a knight, but Karl will not let anyone except his father do so. His mother at last tells the boy who she really is, and so Karl tells Theoderic’s queen that her daughter is deathly ill in Paris. The Queen hurries thither, and at once detects the imposture [the false bride does not fake an illness, as she does in most versions]. Karl has also brought his mother to Paris, and the Queen knows her at once. The impostor and the two conspirators are burnt. Pepin weds the true princess and dubs his son a knight. Karl grows up to fight many wars against the Danes, Saxons, Hungarians, and Spaniards.

The chronicle now turns to Bremenish affairs, which need not concern us here.


The only edition is from 1688, in Henry Meibom, Jr.’s Rerum Germanicarum, volume 2, p. 18 sq. The story of Bertha Broadfoot is under the heading De S. Karolo & S. Willehado, pp. 18-23.

Section 4:

Weihenstephan Weltchronik

German prose, written in Bavaria in the 1430s. Begins by following Jans der Enikel with interpolations from the Gesta Romanorum and the Golden Legend. After Our Lord’s life, it follows the Flores Temporum.2 It survives in four MSS, two of which include a unique account of Charlemagne’s life.

2: Viehhauser, Gabriel, “Weihenstephaner Chronik”, in: Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle, Edited by: Graeme Dunphy, Cristian Bratu. Consulted online on 13 October 2018 <>

In the year 740, when Zacharias I was Pope and Constantine VI was Emperor, King Childeric reigned in France, until the Pope, Prince Pepin, and Pepin’s brother Carloman deposed him. Pepin founded churches in Weihen Stephan. He had no wife, however, so the King of Brittaia, or Kaerling, offers him his daughter Perchta in marriage. Pepin consents, and sends his Hofmaister to fetch the girl. The Hofmaister, however, (who lives in Swabia), has three sons and two daughters, and the younger greatly resembles the Breton princess, so they decide to substitute her, instead. On their way home from Brittaia, the train stops at the Hofmaister’s castle, where they put the princess’ clothes on his daughter, and has two henchmen take her into the woods to kill her. She pleads for mercy, and they settle for abandoning her. They kill her dog instead, and take its tongue as proof. The Hofmaister and his family proceed to King Pepin, who weds the false bride. Their children are Leo, afterwards Pope, Wemrmann, Rapoth, and Agnes. Pepin in those days made war on Bohemia, Saxony, and Hungary.

Perchta, meanwhile, stumbles across a coalburner, whom she thinks is a devil because of his black face. The coalburner takes her to a miller, who takes her in alongside his wife and two daughters. She earns her keep by sewing and embroidery. Seven years later, King Pipin gets lost hunting, with only two attendants and his astrologer. They meet the coalburner, who guides them to the mill. The astrologer sees in the stars that Pepin will lie with his wife tonight and beget a mighty king. Pepin knows he can’t get back to court, so he settles for asking to sleep with someone. The millers’ daughters refuse, but Perchta goes willingly to his bed, and gives him the ring he sent her when they first were courting. He is astonished, and she tells him all the truth. He swears to make things right, but in the meantime she must stay with the miller. This was in the days of Pope Stephen II (r. 752-757), and the 12th year of Constantine VI’s reign (792, but Constantine V’s 12th year was 753. Charlemagne was really born in 742).

When Karl is born, the miller brings a bow and arrow to Pepin, who sends him home with money. King Marsilies of Spain invades France, but Pepin chases him back into Spain, which he then ravages for three years until Marsilies surrenders. Meanwhile, the Hofmaister has been fighting the heathen Saxons. Pepin returns, and summons Karl to court, but his mother will not let him go yet. Pepin then makes war against the Hungarians for two years. One night, an angel appears to him and gives him a golden cross, with which the Christians are victorious. That cross was later given to St. Stephen of Hungary.

When Karl is eight years old, he still does not know who his father is. When he is playing with the other boys, one of them has stolen a bridle, and Karl recommends that they hang the thief. The boy actually dies, and his father, furious, comes to the mill and drags Karl before a judge.

Karl maintains his innocence, and so impresses the judge and presiding nobility with his wisdom, that the King has him brought to court. Karl tells his mother’s story as a hypothetical scenario, and asks the Hofmaister and his sons what ought to be done to such people. The Hofmaister’s eldest son says they deserve to be dragged behind a horse through the streets and then be burned. The other sons concur, but the Hofmaister says, “I will pass no sentence on myself” and pleads for mercy. It is denied, the Hofmaister and his sons are burned, and the false queen is sent to a nunnery. Her children, however, are kept at court. Wenemar, the eldest, is sixteen.

Karl now brings Perchta to his court (at Weihenstephan, in Bavaria). Wenemar and Rapoth hate him, but Leo loves him. Perchta has another son, Carloman, and six years later Pepin and Perchta die, when Karl is 17, in the 29th year of Constantine VI [who only reigned 19, until 797, but Constantine V’s 29th year was 770], the tenth of Desiderius of Italy [766]. [really he died 768].

The chronicle moves into the story of Mainet, p. 53.


The portion dealing with Charlemagne was printed by Johann Christopher Aretin. Aelteste Sage über die Geburt und Jugend Karls des Grossen: Zum erstenmale bekannt gemacht und erläutert. Munich: J. Schererschen Kunst, 1803. Bertha’s story can be found pp. 15-53.

Section 5:

Ulrich Fuetrer’s Bayersische Cronik

Ulrich Fuetrer (d. c. 1500) was a German painter, sculptor, and author. Besides his chronicle, he translated the prose Lancelot into German, and wrote a Buch der abenteuer [Book of Adventures], a collection of Arthurian romances.

The story of Bertha begins after Pepin’s wars against the Hungarians wherein he received the miraculous cross. He is established at Weihenstephan and seeks a wife, and learns of the daughter of the King of Kerlingen. He sends his treacherous steward to negotiate. This steward has a daughter who has been raised away from court. Unfortunately, she looks nothing like Perchta. Undaunted by this, the steward brings home to Pepin a picture of his own daughter, which Pepin agrees to marry. The steward returns to Kerlingen to fetch the poor princess, and between Augsburg and Weihenstephan he has his two henchmen take her into the wood to kill her. They are touched with pity, however, and turn her loose in the woods. The steward rides on to Pepin with his daughter.

Perchta finds her way to a mill, and is taken in by the miller, where she earns her keep by sewing. [Ulrich’s learning shines through here, as Perchta makes an elaborate lament full of classical allusions.] The steward’s daughter and Pepin have children: Rapot, Wineman, Marchona (who marries the prince of Kurnibal [Cornwall, apparently from a confusion of England with Anglant] and becomes the mother of Roland), and Leo, who became Pope.

Perchta lives with the miller for years, until one day Pepin rides out hunting in that forest, and gets lost with only his astrologer for company. They stumble across the mill, where Pepin first admires Perchta’s handiwork, then admires Perchta. He asks for her story, but she says she has sworn never to reveal it. At this juncture, the astrologer bursts in with important news: Pepin must lie with his true bride that very night. Perchta reveals her identity when she hears this. Pepin [though she presents no sort of proof] believes her, and begets on her Charlemagne that very night. In the morning he returns to court, and confirms the story with he two henchmen, whom he then sends to the miller’s. He then summons his court and puts to them the story as a hypothetical, and asks the steward what punishment such a person deserves. The steward says he will pass no judgment against himself, so Pepin has him burnt and his wife immured [in a nunnery]. Pepin writes to Pope Zachary for advice on dealing with the false queen, but before a reply comes, she dies of grief, and so Pepin is free to wed Perchta, who has by now given birth to Karl.

The chronicle now moves on to Mainet.


The Cronik has been printed by R. Spiller, in “Quellen und Erörterungen zur bayerischen Geschichte” New series, volume 2, part 2. Link here. The tale of Bertha runs from p. 83-98, (¶119-140).

Section 6:

Georg Hohenmut

The Zuricher Volksbuch, despite its name, is not a printed chapbook, but rather a manuscript collection made by three hands, now in the Zurich canton library, Codex C. 28. The first story in the collection is known as Das Buch von Heiligen Karl, and was copied by Georg Hohenmut of Werd. It can be divided into four parts.

I: Floris and Blanchefleur, based on Konrad Fleck.

II: Charles’ youth, containing Bertha Broad-Foot, Mainet, Charles’ wars, The revelation of the Way of Saint James, Charles’ coronation, the founding of Aix Cathedral, the Pilgrimage, the founding of 24 churches, building a bridge at Mainz, and Charles’ Sin.

III: Charles’ Wars in Spain, from Der Stricker

IV: Episodes from the Pseudo-Turpin: Furra, Ferracutus, Aigolant, Granopolis, Roncesvalles, among others.

The life of William of Orange follows, but the rest of the MS has nothing to do with Charlemagne.

Berchta is born when her parents, King Florus and Queen Pantschiflur of Spain, are thirty years old, and when she if fifteen, she is betrothed to King Pepin. Pepin is tall and fat [!], and his wife has died, leaving two sons: Wineman and Rappote. Berchta and her lady-in-waiting ride to France, but when Pepin sees how big and tall and ugly Pepin is, she is horrified, and has her maid take her place in bed. The maid has a son by the king, who will grow up to be Pope Leo. Berchta, meanwhile, has been living with a miller, who has many daughters.

Pepin and his astrologer get lost by the mill, and the astrologer tells him he must sleep with his wife that night, to beget a son who will do great service to Christendom. They take refuge with the miller, who has his daughters bring them bread. The miller’s daughters are curt with their guests, but Berchta kneels before him. He is impressed with her grace and beauty, and soon they tell each other all their stories. They lie together on a cart, and the son they conceive that night is thus named Karl. Pepin returns home and bids the maid tell him the truth, promising that no harm will befall her. He sends her away with her son, and takes Berchta as his wife. After Karl, they have a daughter, Gertrude. Pepin dies soon after, and the Buch moves to the story of Mainet.


Deutsche volksbücher aus einer Zürcher handschrift des fünfzehnten jahrhunderts. Edited by A. Bachmann and S. Singer. Bibliotek des Litterarischer verein in Stuttgart CLXXXV. Tübingen, 1889. Bertha’s story is on pages 15-17.

Bertha Broadfoot – General Reference:

Morgan, Leslie Zarker. La Geste Francor. ACMRS: Tempe, AZ, 2009.

Reinhold, Joachim. “Über die verschiedenen Fassungen der Bertassage.” Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 35 (1911): 1-30, 129-152. The source of the stemma.

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